Since I began walking the Camino de Santiago almost exactly two months ago, I have encountered several deeply spiritual moments along the way. Most of the time, these have been products of circumstance or people I have met; rarely are places themselves the catalysts. When I crossed the mountains leading from Astorga to Ponferrada just a few days ago, I finally felt like I had found a place that was immersed in a deep current of energy: Cruz de Ferro.
To reach Cruz de Ferro, you walk about 8 km after the town of Rabanal del Camino, all the while ascending several hundred km until you reach the highest point on the entire Camino de Santiago—even higher than the Pyrenees themselves. The path is mostly dirt, occasionally reaching down to the naked stone of the mountain. Wildflowers dot the path and groves of pine undulate across the valleys. Only the road and the occasional power lines that carve their way across the mountains give any indication of a human presence.
On the edge of the autonomous region of Galicia, this part of the country is almost always under the cover of clouds; I know someone who teaches English in the nearby city of Vigo and she told me that this part of Spain could be mistaken for Ireland because of how green everything is. As I approached the Cruz de Ferro, I wondered for a second what it would look like on a clear day, but somehow couldn’t picture it. This is a place that is meant to be blistered raw from the wind and the rain; it could only ever lie in the clouds.
It is impossible to know how many hundreds of thousands of people, if not in the millions by now, have passed by this place and left something that they took with them from home. Many leave stones—sometimes decorated with names, prayers, places, or messages to others—while others leave pictures, clothing, flags, business cards, notes on paper, or souvenir buttons.
While these totems of hope, loss, love, and wisdom are remarkable for their sheer variety and number, it is the cumulative weight of the thoughts and prayers of people that one comprehends with greater awareness. When I arrived at Cruz de Ferro, I placed a seashell from home not far from the base of the cross. Then I closed my eyes, listening to the howl of wind through the pines and the hushed murmur of other nearby pilgrims, and sensed around me an ambiguous heaviness that was somehow light at the same time.
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